I did find the start of this book to be rather annoying, for it can
never have been realistic that a school would advertise for a
form-master and house-master. Even in those days it would have been
absolutely normal that a house-master would undergo a long period as a
junior master before even being asked to take a house at some time in
the future. This would be something like five years on the staff, and
then a further ten years before actually taking charge of a house. As
for being Master of the Shell, again, there would be a period of
probation while a young man was learning the ropes about teaching,
before he would become head of a Block, such as Shell. In my school
there was a Shell, but it was rather a side alley, rather than the broad
avenue leading to the Sixth Form. It was usual for the Head of a Block
to be a man who had done his fifteen years as a house master, and who
had therefore been on the staff for thirty years or more.
One last point about appointing a young master to a school: he would be
expected to play a full part in sport or other outdoor activities. Our
hero had indeed been an Oxford Blue, and he could have got a job on the
basis of this and his academic record. But he would never have been
accepted if he mentioned that he was planning soon to marry, for the
school needed him heart and soul as a bachelor for at least five years.
On the other hand it was quite desirable that he should marry before
becoming a house master, though on the whole the most excellent house
masters are the unmarried ones.
It takes quite a few chapters to get past the welter of nineteenth
century school-boy slang before we get to any decisive fresh action.
There was another house-master, who was an exceedingly nasty man. Some
of the boys lay a trap for him, catch him, tie him up with a rope, and
leave him for the night in the boot box, after which none of the boys
will admit to this misdemeanour. By chance the hero, Mr. Railsford,
finds out who did it, but under circumstances which make it impossible
for him to tell anyone. The nasty man tries to pin the deed on him,
and it comes to the point where he has to resign rather than tell.
Luckily he is saved at the very last moment, so late that his cab has
arrived to take him to the station. When all is revealed, it is the
nasty man that has to resign. We are left to presume that the school
continued harmoniously for many a year, with Railsford still a house
master, and Master of the Shell.
REED, Talbot Baines (1852-93). English author of books for boys, born in London, the son of Sir Charles Reed (1819-91), chairman of the London School Board. He became head of his father's firm of typefounders, and wrote books on the history of printing (such as History of the Old English Letter-foundries (1887). His robust, moral, but entertaining school stories first appeared in the Boy's Own Paper. They include The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's (1881), The Master of the Shell (1887), and Cockhouse at Fellsgarth (1891).
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These transcriptions of books by various nineteenth century authors of instructive books for teenagers, were made during the period 1997 to the present day by Athelstane e-Books. Most of the books are concerned with the sea, but in any case all will give a good idea of life in the nineteenth century, and sometimes earlier than that. This of course includes attitudes prevalent at the time, but frowned upon nowadays.
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